Podcast SeriesScience Clear + Vivid

With support from The Kavli Foundation, Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda presents this special series on the power of basic scientific research – from the pure to the practical. What is curiosity-driven research? Why does it matter? How does it play a role in transforming our lives? Where does basic research take place and by whom? Why is investing in basic research essential to society?

Host Alan Alda leads conversations with guests discussing these topics and more, each sharing their point of view and experience about basic science and their personal stories – what got them interested in or involved in science.

Anna Ploszajski: When Science Meets Craft


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A scientist fluent in the atomic properties of materials like glass and steel and wood, Anna Ploszajski wanted the hands-on experience of how craftspeople use them. The result is her book, Handmade: A Scientist’s Search for Meaning Through Making.

Published Wednesday, September 01, 2021 7:07 PM


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You may not realize it, but you are subtly revising and updating your memories all the time – to keep them, as Daphna Shohamy puts it, “nimble,” and so better able to help you chart both the present and the future.

Published Wednesday, August 25, 2021 5:17 PM


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As a young Italian physics student, Caterina Vernieri was lucky enough to join the team hunting for the most elusive and highly-prized fundamental particle of all – the Higgs boson – just as it was found. She is now leading a team building the detector that may reveal the Higgs’ secrets.

Published Thursday, August 19, 2021 7:06 PM


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An unknown but very clever cockatoo in Sydney Australia invented a novel way of raiding trash bins. Teaming with citizen scientists, Lucy Aplin and her team tracked how cockatoos throughout the city soon picked up the same trick.

Published Wednesday, August 04, 2021 7:04 PM


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With ultra-thin fibers and minute magnetic particles, Polina Anikeeva and her team are developing new ways to tap into the brain. Her ultimate goal is to understand and treat brain diseases like Parkinson’s.

Published Wednesday, July 21, 2021 7:02 PM


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Dangling from a balloon the size of a football stadium miles above the South Pole, a payload built by astrophysicist Abby Vieregg peers down at the ice looking for messenger particles from the most energetic places in the universe.

Published Wednesday, July 14, 2021 7:01 PM


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The mightiest events in the entire universe – when black holes collide – create ripples in space-time now being detected by the most sensitive instruments ever built – and are opening up a new era in astronomy.

Published Wednesday, June 30, 2021 7:00 PM


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It’s not often that cuttlefish go viral, but that’s what happened when Alex Schnell published the results of her experiments showing that cuttlefish perform well in a version of the famous marshmallow test used to test self-control in children.

Published Wednesday, June 09, 2021 6:56 PM


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By coaxing skin cells to become brain cells in a dish, Alysson Muotri hopes to learn how early brain development can go wrong in conditions like autism or epilepsy – and how our brains differ from those of our cousins, the Neanderthals.

Published Wednesday, June 02, 2021 6:55 PM


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During brain surgery, Dr. Edward Chang can record the brain’s electrical activity while the patient speaks – then reproduce the spoken words. His goal is to develop a device that will give a voice to people who have lost their ability to speak.

Published Wednesday, May 26, 2021 6:49 PM


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Ev Fedorenko is in awe of her 3 1/2 year old daughter’s ability to soak up language – and as a neuroscientist, Ev’s goal is to one day understand how her daughter’s brain is doing it. Meanwhile she is tackling questions like – can we think without language? And just where in the brain is language anyway?

Published Wednesday, May 12, 2021 6:46 PM


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Audrey Winkelsas has a rare genetic disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. While it limits her physical abilities, it has helped ignite her passion for science as she works at the laboratory bench – aided by her mother – to find a novel medication to help SMA patients manage the disease.

Published Wednesday, May 05, 2021 6:44 PM


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Brothers Eugene and Kevin Shenderov escaped with their parents from the Soviet Union shortly after being exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl explosion. They are now physician researchers whose personal experience shapes both their research and their relationship to their patients.

Published Thursday, April 29, 2021 6:43 PM


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Husband and wife Eiman Azim and Sharona Ben-Haim believe we should be very proud of ourselves for doing things like buttoning a button or typing on a keyboard – because they require astonishingly complex fine motor control. Eiman is studying the neural control of those skills, while Sharona is in the operating room trying to restore them in conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

Published Wednesday, April 14, 2021 6:41 PM


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Right before Alan got his second shot of the Moderna vaccine, he talked with Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who led the science team at the NIH that helped developed it. Their version of the notorious spike protein gives us, as Dr. Corbett puts it, “the best immunity you can have.”

Published Wednesday, April 07, 2021 6:40 PM


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Omar Abudayyeh and Jonathan Gootenberg are young researchers who were smart enough, persistent enough and lucky enough to find themselves – while still in their early 20s – in the lab of one of the pioneers of CRISPR. They are now pioneers of their own, inventing SHERLOCK, a simple, rapid and accurate test for the coronavirus.

Published Wednesday, March 31, 2021 6:36 PM


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Former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, now an MIT professor, Simon Johnson urges increased investment in basic research as a way “to convert knowledge into jobs into a way to share prosperity.” And he argues that this increased investment should be focused on the middle of the country, “in places where it makes sense to build a lab and build a cluster of expertise.”

Published Wednesday, December 09, 2020 7:35 PM


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Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rebecca Blank argues that public universities like hers not only produce over two-thirds of the PhDs that come out of the top schools, but crucially include students from more diverse backgrounds. In her state, “great kids growing up on dairy farms and the inner city,” so creating scientists aware of real-world problems needing solutions.

Published Wednesday, December 02, 2020 7:34 PM


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Bob Conn, the president of the Kavli Foundation, argues that philanthropies play a vital role in funding scientific research because they can take more chances. Unlike the federal government, they’re better able to fund research that may very well fail – but if it succeeds, can change the world for the better.

Published Wednesday, November 25, 2020 7:33 PM


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President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County for almost 30 years, Freeman Hrabowski has transformed a sleepy, mainly white, commuter school into a launching pad for thousands of African American scientists and engineers. “And that helps obviously the people we call disadvantaged. But also the ones in power who don't have access to the so-called disadvantaged, don't have access to their genius.”

Published Wednesday, November 18, 2020 7:32 PM


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When she was head of the US Geological Survey, Marcia McNutt led the federal response to the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Now the first female director of the National Academy of Sciences, she draws on that experience to ensure the Academy provides the government with what she calls “actionable science,” when, in a crisis, the stakes are high and time is short.

Published Wednesday, November 11, 2020 7:29 PM


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“Dr. Panch,” as he’s known, is the new Director of the National Science Foundation. He supervises over $8 billion of federal investment in research. To make that investment count, among his goals is inspiring the “spirit of science” in the young and under-represented—and encouraging the curiosity that can lead to the unexpected. Or, as he says. “looking for coal and finding a diamond.”

Published Thursday, November 05, 2020 7:28 PM


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Shirley Tilghman finds inspiration in the report delivered to President Roosevelt 75 years ago. It was called Science: The Endless Frontier, and it spurred the curiosity driven research that fueled America’s leadership in science and technology. We need to follow that advice again, she argues. Tilghman, the first woman president of Princeton University from 2001 to 2013, tells Alan that the importance of basic research is something, “we forget at our peril.”

Published Wednesday, October 28, 2020 6:26 PM


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Vaccines that could save us from Covid19 are being developed with unprecedented speed. Harvey Fineberg argues this would have been impossible without decades of basic research. Research that, at the time, seemed to have little or no practical purpose. Fineberg, president of the Moore Foundation, tells Alan: “Our ability to live healthy, prosperous, and satisfying lives has been served and advanced by basic science. The chains of linkage of causation are obvious to anyone who just takes a look.”

Published Wednesday, October 21, 2020 6:15 PM


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Einstein spent his last years at the famed Institute for Advanced Study. Robbert Dijkgraaf, who heads the Institute now, marvels at how work like Einstein’s allowed us to see so deeply into nature. That work came from the same human brain that once evolved to hunt and gather, and now takes us into worlds we never imagined. All driven by curiosity.

Published Wednesday, October 14, 2020 6:13 PM